By Brett Sheats, National Project Director, Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) A few weeks ago, EARN had the pleasure of hosting a webinar on encouraging disability self-identification in the workplace – a topic about which there has been a lot of discussion the last two years, given the updates to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act that went into effect in March 2014. For anyone unfamiliar with Section 503, it requires covered entities, namely federal contractors and subcontractors, to take affirmative action to hire people with disabilities. The 2014 updates strengthened these requirements, creating, for the first time ever, a measurable goal of seven-percent. They also set a requirement that federal contractors invite employees to self-identify as people with disabilities every five years (as well as to all job candidates at both the pre- and post-offer stage). As you might guess, the seven-percent utilization goal and self-identification requirement are very much interrelated, with the latter providing federal contractors an important tool in achieving their responsibilities and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) – which enforces Section 503 – the data it needs to measure progress on a national scale. While those of us here at EARN knew there was a lot of interest in this topic, we didn’t realize quite how hungry employers were for information on it; while our typical webinars attract about 300-400 registrants, this one resulted in more than 1,000. We were thrilled to be able to reach such a large audience in such a cost-effective way, and even more thrilled to do so with excellent presentations by two preeminent thought leaders on this topic, Lori Golden, Abilities Strategy Leader at EY, and Kathleen Lee, Business Outreach Consultant at the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University. Shaun McGill, a Senior Policy Advisor in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (which funds EARN) moderated, helping provide perspective on how self-identification contributes to his agency’s goals as well as those of DOL at large. I encourage anyone who was not able to attend to access the webinar archive. Both presenters and the moderator provided a wealth of insights and information about self-identification and disability disclosure in the workplace. To provide a sense of the discussion, following the webinar, I asked each to share their top three key takeaways, which were: Lori Golden:
- Building and communicating an abilities-inclusive culture is the most important step toward a successful self-identification effort.
- Holistic, integrated and positive approaches to self-identification are most successful.
- Promoting self-identification requires both culture change and mindset/behavior change at an individual level.
- Articulating a clear business case for why employing and retaining individuals with disabilities is important to a company, as it improves your business in talent, market share and supplier diversity.
- Messaging is vital to any successful self-identification and disability inclusion effort – make certain it is well-timed and reinforced in your culture.
- Understanding that disclosure is a personal decision is extremely important to candidates/employees with disabilities.
- A culture and business model that communicates diversity and inclusion in every aspect of an organization facilitates a successful self-identification program.
- Resources to help create and implement a successful self-identification program are readily available via myriad venues and are easily adaptable to most business models.
- Leveraging the knowledge, experience, and relationships of existing employees and programs such as employee resource groups can strengthen an employer’s diversity and inclusion footprint, making it a more inviting business environment for new and existing employees to self-disclose and request needed accommodations.
To me, the biggest takeaway was that encouraging self-identification is less about getting people to “check the box” and more about creating an environment where they know diverse perspectives are valued. If you create the latter, the former follows naturally. But, the reality is, the benefits don’t stop there. That’s because diversity – including disability diversity – adds value. As the nation’s largest minority, comprising approximately 56.7 million individuals, according to 2010 census data, people with disabilities represent an essential perspective to have at the table in businesses of all sizes and in all industries – and we at EARN stand at the ready to help employers ensure they foster a workplace culture welcoming of their skills and talents. Employers and others interested in learning more about this topic are also encouraged to read Do Ask, Do Tell: Encouraging Employees with Disabilities to Self-Identify, a report prepared by The Conference Board in collaboration with EARN.